2 judges fault coal project, but environmental groups still wary
2 judges fault coal project, but environmental groups still wary Back to News

Two Texas administrative law judges have sided with environmentalists against a permit for a new coal- and petroleum coke-fired power plant in Matagorda County.

The judges found that Houston-based White Stallion Energy Center's plans for a 1,200-megawatt plant failed on three points, including the quality of the data used to make conclusions about air quality in the area.

Environmentalists who oppose the White Stallion plant said the judges' ruling did not go as far as they would like, but it possibly delayed the project by as much as six months.

"This is a pollution bullet dodged for a moment," said Tom "Smitty" Smith, Texas director of Public Citizen, one of the groups fighting the new plant.

Administrative Law Judges Paul Keeper and Kerrie Jo Qualthorough issued their decision this week based on testimony and evidence at a hearing in April.

The judges' findings are not binding on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which makes the final decision on air permits. The commissioners have not yet scheduled a vote on the White Stallion permit, a TCEQ spokesman said. In June, the commissioners gave the developers of a petroleum-coke plant in Corpus Christi four months to fix problems in their application, despite a blistering ruling from two administrative law judges and pleas from environmentalists and residents to require the company to start over.

In the White Stallion case, the judges found fault with the data the company used to make conclusions on air quality in the region. They also concluded that the company failed to consider the effects of coal dust and to set proper limits for two air pollutants.

White Stallion officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The judges denied the environmentalists' request to reject the application based on the potential effect on Houston's air quality.

Some Houston lawmakers and environmentalists have said the new plant would worsen the region's stubborn smog problem as tougher nationwide limits for the widespread pollutant come into play.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also wants Texas regulators to delay permits until they can prove that pollution from the coal plant would not worsen Houston's smog.

The new plant would pump more than 4,000 tons of nitrogen oxides into the air each year — as much as 4.8  million cars - and increase Houston's ozone level by 2 parts per billion, according to environmental groups.

"There is no doubt that White Stallion will have a lot of NOx emissions," said Neil Carman, an air quality expert for the Sierra Club's Lone Star chapter. "It's just a matter of which way the wind blows."

The plant would be built less than 20 miles from the boundary of the eight-county Houston region that was long in violation of federal limits for smog, or ozone. Rules on industrial pollution - in particular, new sources - are tighter inside such areas than outside, even though smog isn't bound by county lines.

Houston, once the nation's smog capital, met the federal smog limit for the first time last year. Ozone is created when a mixture of chemicals emitted mostly by vehicles, refineries and industrial plants reacts with sunlight.